During Frieze week there were two booths that I regret not seeing in person. Alison Saar’s booth hosted by L.A. Louver was one of them. Her solo presentation, Chaos in the Kitchen featured a series of sculptures and prints by the artist that pay homage to the sanctity of the kitchen as a place of refuge, nourishment, enterprise, creativity, and beauty. It’s also an affirmation of the strength of women, who Saar describes, “maintain the world while cooking in the kitchen.” The show was covered by Matt Stromberg for Los Angeleno.
The works from Saar’s Frieze show that I cannot get out of my mind are a trio of small sculptures called “Hot Comb Haint Caldonia” (2019), Hot Comb Haint, and a third small scale sculpture that appears to be a small version of a large scale piece called “The Big Singe” (2020). The three works are made from repurposed hot combs used for straightening hair by heating the iron comb on the stove. In Saar’s works, the combs are attached to carved wooden sculptures, two of which are spirits called “haints” that, according to southern legend, escape their earthly bodies at night to torment the innocent.
In South Carolina, enslaved Africans created symbolic deterrents to these spirits by painting porches an indigo hue. The color blue is important because haints cannot cross water or ascend to the skies. Bottle trees in yards became a totemic derivative of this practice as well. Homes throughout the South continue this tradition of pale blue porches and bottle trees to counteract the evil spirits.
Saar’s sculptures are painted in a patinated teal and indigo blue which are colors that the artist frequently uses in her sculptural work. Another piece called “Sorrow’s Kitchen” features another wooden sculpture, this time of a woman in a white dress is holding a pot while staring into its contents that reveal the woman’s reflection staring back at her. It’s solemnity and introspection are at once somber, prideful, and strong. The title harkens back to one of Zora Neale Hurston’s most vividly potent quotes from the novel, Dust Tracks on a Road.
“I have been in Sorrow’s kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and a sword in my hands.”
I can’t think of a better image, conjured from the eloquent words of Zora Neale Hurston to end this Artist a Day series. Once again, I’ve learned so much through this process, and I appreciate each and every one of you who have validated the work done here through your comments and words of support.